Monday, August 17, 2009

The Needle in the Haystack, v. 2K9

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying “Oh, your job must be a lot easier these days with so many people out of work,” or “Gee, business must be slow – your clients must have lines out the door of prospective candidates.”

Not really.

Why do clients call upon the services of executive recruiters? It’s only when there’s a tough position to fill; otherwise, they’d just do it themselves through their own network. We work together with the client to develop a summary of the position that we will send out to prospective candidates – the “spec.” These are typically very narrowly defined descriptions of the perfect candidate. Again – if it were easy, they wouldn’t be calling us.

These days, there are a lot of people who think that it’s a lot easier to find the right people because so many people are out of work, many through no fault of their own. That last bit is important, and it’s true. There are a LOT of folks who are ‘on the beach’ because the company couldn’t raise its next round, or the division was shut down, or their major customer folded, or, or, or… The point is, these are very skilled, capable managers who happened to be in the wrong place. It’s the first bit that’s the issue. In fact, the situation is quite the opposite.

The reality is that we’re busy, and working harder than ever to service our clients. The problem is that the needle got smaller and the haystack got a lot bigger. There are two forces at work here, coming from opposite ends of the recruiting spectrum. On one hand, clients believe that now that there are so many good folks on the market, they can be extremely picky. The specs are tighter, and the barriers to entry are higher. “If this person isn’t the right candidate,” they believe, “we’ll just move on to the next one in the pipeline.” On the other hand, there really are a lot of folks on the market. That makes sorting through all the noise is a lot more difficult. Again, there are a lot of very highly qualified resumes to sort through. Thus, the ever-important characteristic of “fit” becomes even more central.

At the risk of sounding self-serving, I would say that now, more than ever, the services of a skilled executive search professional are required when seeking to fill critical roles in an organization – and one could easily argue that they’re all critical roles. This is particularly true in emerging industries such as cleantech, where it takes a skilled eye to discern the technical and personal characteristics in candidates that will make them compatible with a new industry.

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